Review of The Parker Inheritance

The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson
Intermediate, Middle School    Levine/Scholastic    344 pp.    g
3/18    978-0-545-94617-9    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-0-545-95279-8    $10.99

In 2007 Abigail Caldwell, the first female and African American city manager for 
the town of Lambert, South Carolina, was forced to resign after covertly digging 
up the municipal tennis courts, looking for buried treasure. Now, a decade later, 
the late Abigail’s twelve-year-old granddaughter Candice is following the same arcane clues, hoping to uncover the Parker inheritance — but who was Parker? 
Johnson’s Westing Game–inspired tale is a tangled historical mystery, a satisfying multigenerational family story, and an exploration of twentieth-century (and contemporary) race and racism. Chapters alternate between the present, in which Candice grapples with making new friends, dealing with her parents’ divorce, and puzzling together information, and the past, particularly 1957, when a secret, integrated high school tennis match led to a violent racist attack. Johnson’s narrative revels in its puzzle-story elements (“She leaned back in the chair and spun in place. Maybe we’re reading this too literally. Maybe it’s more figurative. Like, if it’s a sum, maybe we should convert the clues to numbers”), and his protagonist is intelligent, endearing, and believable; scenes with her father, especially, have both humor and poignancy. Well-placed textual clues keep historical context and race relations at the front of readers’ minds — and examining those constructs, ingeniously, provides the key to solving the mystery.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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